Believe it or not, this was inspired by an Oprah show. Yes, I do watch it occasionally. Once, when we were going to be in Chicago for a few days, I tried to get in her show. But she wouldn't return my calls. She wouldn't even pick up the phone. In fact I couldn't even get it to RING. Oh well.
Anyway, she did a show on the topic of happiness. They featured a town in California, San Luis Obispo, population 44,000, that somehow is considered the happiest town in the U.S. The people were not affluent and the town was not particularly large. So what was the reason? The town had made some changes such as closing the main street to cars to make it pedestrian-friendly. They put in bike paths/lanes and even offered valet bike-parking. They widened their sidewalks and encouraged outside seating at the cafes. All in all, they provided an environment that encouraged the citizens to get outside and interact with their neighbors.
According to studies, happiness IS influenced by salary, but only to a point well below a level that would be considered wealthy. In fact it would not qualify as upper middle-class. Beyond that, they said you will find more happiness joining a club, than by increasing your income. So what is it about a club, wide sidewalks, and bicycles? People. Interaction. Mingling. Socializing. Belonging. What this says to me is that anything that establishes friendship, bonding, common interests with which to connect with others, can raise your level of happiness.
Members of my church are also considered to be generally happy, cheerful people. In addition to the beliefs that we embrace that give us hope and purpose, we do a LOT of socializing. We worship in a uniform style worldwide, so that we naturally have much in common with other members wherever we find them. On our recent cruise to the Caribbean, we sought out the local LDS congregation on the island of Antigua, where we docked on a Sunday. There we found instant friends. There we immediately felt welcome, loved, and at home. We talked the same "language" and shared the same outlook on life. As a member of this church, we are part of something huge and this would definitely count as that "club" so to speak, that can impact our happiness.
Bringing this around to the designated topic of this blog, I have discovered that running has expanded my social circles and has created bonds with others who share my love for this sport. Participating in a group event, particularly on a team, instills a powerful sense of belonging. A feeling that I matter to others. The added happiness that running has brought into my already happy life goes beyond the sense of accomplishment and achieving goals, as important as those things are. It causes interaction with some awesome people! It has widened my sidewalks.